Armed and Ready: The Potential Power of The Technology Assessment Report for Families

by Linda Robinson

The written recommendations and report from a technology assessment could be the key many families need to open doors for their children. By itself the technology assessment report has no power, but in the hands of a concerned family or educator, it can be used to justify the purchase and use of computer equipment at home or in a classroom. Over the past eight years TTAP staff have heard from many families who have acquired equipment for their children as a result of the report. The report can be used to get funding locally, regionally or through national organizations and foundations. Families are "armed," because they have the ammunition needed to justify incorporating technology into the IEP/IFSP. They are also ready to fight for what their children need.

So how should this report be written so that it can be used the most effectively by families and educators? To answer this question we need to go back to the assessment day and consider how to pull together all of the information on the child's abilities that the team has gathered.

As a technology assessment team, you have looked at the child's positioning, equipment placement, a suitable input method, several software applications, and any needed adaptations. You are confident in your knowledge of the child's abilities to use technology for specific IEP goals, so what is the next step? As soon as possible after the assessment, team members will summarize all observation notes and forms and perhaps review the videotape from the assessment to fill in any questionable areas. This information will be used in writing the assessment report.

Two forms, developed by TTAP which are used during the assessment and which make report writing easier, are the Individual Trial Form and TECH ACCESS (Technology Assessment for Computer Capability for the Education of Special Students). The Individual Trial Form is used to record observations on each activity, including what software and input method are being used, the child's position, peripheral placement, adaptations used, description of activity, child's reaction, and observer's comments. The other assessment form,TECH ACCESS, is used not only to record observations but to help in writing recommendations. This tool is a guide for assessing reliable movement, and switch, touch tablet, and keyboard input, and for making recommendations in each of these areas. Both of these TTAP forms can be useful during the assessment report writing process.

The report should begin with background information about the assessment, such as the child's name, address, phone, age, date and location of the assessment, and a list of the team members participating along with their positions. The reason for the referral for the assessment and evaluation goals should be stated. This information is important, since it reflects the purpose for the assessment and what type of recommendations are needed. For example, if the family and school staff need to find ways that the child can use existing equipment, then the set of recommendations should reflect that purpose. However, if no equipment is currently available for the child, and the family or school have money to purchase a new computer system, recommendations on the latest equipment and software should be made.

Equipment and software used during the assessment needs to be listed in the report, whether or not each program and input method was successful. The child's positioning and the equipment set-up should be described briefly, such as "The child was evaluated from a small plastic cube seat when using battery-operated toys, and from an adaptive Rifton chair for the computer activities." If the computer is placed on an adjustable table, that should be stated. Other considerations include whether the child is positioned in a wheelchair and if so, is the tray being used for the placement of a switch or touch tablet?

A Summary of Observations should include a paragraph describing each activity. The purpose, the software, input method, and adaptations used, and the child's interest and ability to participate should be included for each activity. Also it is helpful to the reader if the software is described briefly, such as "The Nursery Rhyme portion of the program was chosen, since it presents three picture choices at the bottom of the screen." When an input method or software program is changed, a transition should be written which explains the purpose of changing to another activity. For example, "Since Jimmy seemed to do well with a simple switch program, we decided to assess his ability to visually track a small box on the screen, a beginning scanning skill." Or "To further assess Jimmy's use of the switch with software, we decided to go back to the Jellybean Switch...."

The team's observations should be written in the order in which the activities occured; however, you can add a heading to paragraphs to help separate different input methods and software. A TTAP Report may have the following headings: Switch Activity -- Battery-operated Toys; Switch Activity -- Workshop; and TouchWindow Activity -- HyperStudio. In this way a reader can skim through the report and get an idea of what input methods and software were used without having to read the entire Observations section.

After the observations have been summarized, recommendations can be written. In the TTAP Report we begin the Recommendations section with a paragraph summarizing the child's abilities and interests. Specific suggestions for Input Method, Computer Equipment, Software, Equipment Placement and Goals follow. Under Input Method, if we are recommending a switch, then we give information on a specific type and why this one seems to meet the child's needs. For very young children, we may recommend a switch and battery-operated toys, in which case we also provide resource information for the switch and toys. If a switch holder is needed, a commercial or home-made one is suggested. TTAP has schematics for a customized switch holder which is included with the report. If a touch tablet is recommended similar resource information is also provided. The main consideration under Input Method is to explain the purpose for recommending a certain device and for what applications the device will be used.

If a new computer system is being recommended, it is wise to list general considerations, such as RAM, hard drive space, CD-ROM drive, and size of monitor, rather than suggest a particular model. The recommendation may not be met until a year or more later, at which time a specific model may no longer be available. Again explain why these computer considerations are important.

When recommending software, list possible IEP goals which may be met through use of a particular software program. For example, "Switch Intro is a beginning switch program which reinforces attending and visual tracking skills." If there is a specific part of a software program which is being recommended, then it should be listed also. For the previous example, "Willy the Worm" should be suggested, since it is the one part of the software which reinforces the targeted skills.

If there is a particular placement for the equipment, this should be mentioned under Recommendations. If you know that there has been a problem with designing the computer environment in the child's classroom, this may be a good place to write some helpful tips for the school staff. Placement recommendations may also include suggesting an adjustable computer table if the monitor and computer are not at a suitable height for the child, or adapting what the classroom already has available.

As a final part of the Recommendations, suggested goals can be included. Review the purpose for the assessment and what IEP/IFSP goals the child and family have. Then provide some ideas on goals for using technology at this time. In TTAP we always recommend consistent use of the equipment, no matter what the specific goal. We may also include a curriculum activity to go along with a recommended software program.

The assessment report is ended with a brief Summary. Recommended equipment and software are listed and closing statements are made. The TTAP report ends with a short paragraph describing follow-up support for the family and school staff who work with the child. Resource information on software and peripherals are included with the report.

A well written and thorough report can provide valuable information to the families and other support team members. It is meant to be read and followed by staff who work with the child. As the child progresses follow-up assessments will be needed to provide the family and school with ammunition to insure the child's full potential is being met.

Further details on TTAP's assessment report format and procedures, as well as the forms referred to in this article, are available in written form in the Technology Team Assessment Process. This 211-page maual may be ordered from The Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood.

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